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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

Founder of vidyodaya pirivena most ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Maha Nayake Thera

The Vidodaya Pirivena stands before us as the great symbol of resurgence of Sri Lanka, its people, and its whole culture. Though generally it is considered as the great edifice of learning, specially monastic education, in the true sense it is much more.

It served as the bastion for freedom fighters; the training ground for future leaders, the cohesive force uniting all patriots; the center for cultural awakening and rejuvenation; the fountain of wisdom and enlightened leadership; the source of inspiration for a nation battered and bruised by discriminative activities of an alien power; the provider of emotive power to the people to rise against blatant oppression and discrimination perpetuated by colonial powers starting since 1505 A.C with the advent of Portuguese.

In short the Vidyodaya Privena symbolizes the rightful and legitimate aspirations of a whole nation, yet striving to regain the glory of which it has been robbed.

Mother Sri Lanka has always given birth to great sons daughters at times of dire need. The Long history of Sri Lanka is replete with such great personalities who selflessly served the nation with courage and foresight.

The founder of the Vidyodaya Pirivena is one such, and perhaps is the brightest luminary of the 19th century who was in the vanguard of the Buddhist and cultural revival movement of Sri Lanka.

But it is somewhat unfortunate that the services of this founder of Vidyodaya Pirivena who breathed life into the whole revival movement has not been properly and comprehensively evaluated, for the emphasis has mostly been only on his scholarship and activities centering on monastic education which has unduly overshadowed his multifaceted, incomparable services to the nation as a whole in a much wider range of areas.

The Most Venerable Hikkaduwa Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera is, perhaps, the most illustrious religious luminary after Asarana Sarana Veliwita Sri Saranankara Sangharaja Maha Nayaka Thera.

In fact in service the former surpasses the latter, for the latter's services extend beyond the ambit of the revival of the monastic system and its education.

His services embrace the aspirations of the whole nation in all their diverse aspects.

Born in 1827 in a hamlet in Hikkaduwa as the son to the family of Don Nicholas Abeyweera Gunawardena, he entered the order in 1840 under the tutelage of Ven. Mabotuwana Revata Nayaka Thera, the chief incumbent of Tilakarama, Hikkaduwa.

He had his early education at the feet of such erudite monks as Ven. Pannangoda Jetuttara and Ven. Bowala Dhammananda. His enthusiasm and futuristic vision was such that he learnt English, too, under the guidance of one gentleman called John Cornelis Abeygunawardhana. And this learning stood in good stead for him at the later stage.

As a young novice he showed his great potential by fluently conversing in Pali with a Burmese delegation that arrived in Sri Lanka.

The turning point of his most illustrious career started with his joining the Parama Dhamma Cetiya Pirivena, the most fertile nursery that produced a band of both lay and clergy literati of the time.

The influence and guidance of Most Ven. Walane Sri Siddhartha, the founder of Parama Dhamma Cetiya Pirivena as well as the sharp impact of the peer-students including Ratmalane Sri Dharmaloka the founder of vidyalankara Pirivena, ignited his deep desire to do his utmost best to monastic education and to the nation, rendered helpless by the absence of inspiring, enlightened leadership.

The Vidyodaya Pirivena started with just seven students, but within a short period of time it was able to create a great stir in the whole scenario of Sri Lanka in all its spheres.

Its student enrolment increased, drawing towards it not only local talented students, but exemplary students from abroad.

Venerables Heyyantuduwe Sri Devamitra Mahagoda Sri Jnanesvara, Bihalpola Sri Devarakshita, Kahave Sri Ratnasara, Baddegama Siri Piyaratana Maha Theras were among the local students.

There were some from Japan: Ven Kojin Gunaratana, Kojina Kondanna, and lay scholars such as Sato and Tochibana. From India there came Ven. Dhammananda Kosambi, and also such scholars as Satischand Vidyabhusha, Kevaradas, Pandit Goswami, N.K.Bhagavat and a host of others. Just as student enrolment, the curriculae, too expanded, and teaching indigenous medicine formed an important part.

The standard set by Most Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Maha Nayaka Thera who by then was appointed the Head of the Sri Pada, was such that he was unanimously recognized the foremost Buddhist monk in the whole island. Inspired by him, his peers, including Most Ven. Ratmalane Dharmaloka started Buddhist Institutes.

Eminent Buddhist workers like Sir Henry Steels Olcotte, and even the then Governor of Sri Lanka sought his advice and guidance.

He was greatly responsible in moulding the character of Anagarika Dharmapala. Vidyodaya Pirivena provided the necessary forum for Buddhist workers and, hence, it was a beehive of activities: academic, religious, social and cultural.

Always self-efficiency and selfless in all services he rendered, Most Ven Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Mahanayaka Thera was the real force behind the great debater Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda.

He was the think-tank, the dynamic leader, the far-sighted campaigner demanding for justice, equality, legitimate rights of all Sri Lankans, specially the Buddhists. He gave leadership and demonstrated that non-violent agitation is a forceful weapon to drive in proper sense and reasoning into oppressive rulers.

Such is the calibre of this great Buddhist monk who set the role model for his followers who headed the Vidyodaya Pirivena.

He was a tower of strength, a great source of inspiration who paved the way for a host of great erudite men, both lay and clergy. He was the torch-bearer of the Buddhist revival movement.

The institution he established, his brain-child, namely the Vidyodaya Pirivena, which has had the great fortune of having erudite monks, following the footsteps of Most Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, as the beaconlight to all Buddhists of Sri Lanka.

To commemorate the Founders day a meeting will be held at the Vidyodaya Pirivena on April 29, 2005 at 3.30 pm. Most Ven. Weligama Gnanaratana Maha Nayaka Thera, and Dr. Darshana Ratnayake, the Senior Lecturer of the Department of Sinhala University of Kelaniya, will deliver special lectures at the occasion.

To mark this occasion, three senior Venerables, Most Venerable Davuldena Gnanissara Maha Nayaka Thera, Ven. Medagama Vajiranana Nayaka Thera and Ven. Kurunegoodah Piyatissa Nayaka Thera will be conferred with the honourary title of Sri Sumangala Vidyavatamsa.

All are welcome to this meeting.

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